Most books that strongly influenced my childhood were predictable classics: Little Women, Anne of Green Gables, Laura Ingalls Wilder’s fictionalized memoirs, the exploits of Sherlock Holmes and Robin Hood, The Little Prince. Others turned out to be personal passions, like Mistress Masham’s Repose by T. H. White. Perhaps the most obscure, though I didn’t know it at the time, was George Herbert Locke’s When Canada Was New France (1920).
“Almost four hundred years ago, when bluff King Hal ruled over Merry England and Francis over Sunny France, there were strange stories told in the ports of the west of England and the north of France of lands away to the Westward,” it began. What child could resist? Especially a child with Canadian roots, who spent summers in Canada with Canadian aunts, uncles, and cousins. A child excited by tales of adventure, all the more when the tales were true.
Locke wrote in honor of then-recent Canadian soldiers who sailed to Old France to preserve their ancestral motherlands in the Great War. To an adult reader today, his account is a quaint period piece, justifiably long out of print. To one child reader long ago, the intrepid explorers he wrote about—Cartier, Champlain, Joliet, Marquette, LaSalle—opened the door to a lifelong fascination with true stories of long ago.
I'm a historian who writes novels and literary nonfiction. My home base is Madison, Wisconsin.